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Cleanin’ up attitudes

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently launched The Cleaning Taskforce. Supported by industry bodies like the British Cleaning Council and a multitude of firms, including Servest, the taskforce aims to:

• Promote employers’ compliance with employment law and improve workers’ understanding of employment rights;

• Improve the impact of public and private sector procurement of cleaning services on employment conditions in the sector;

• Encourage the respectful treatment of cleaning operatives.

FMJ investigates what Servest is doing to make its cleaning staff feel valued and how the staff themselves view the industry and the taskforce

Ask a group of kids what they want to be when they grow up and you might expect them to say: rock star, astronaut, doctor, firefighter, vet or athlete. Not many kids say they want to be a cleaner.

And yet cleaners perform an essential function in society. They keep our environments spotless. Without cleaners, there would be grime, dirt, mess, litter and germs everywhere.

Cleaners work hard, often in the early hours while everyone else sleeps. Yet their pay doesn’t always reflect their value, and they don’t always receive the respect they deserve either. Their supervisors might ignore their good ideas – they’re ‘just’ cleaners – and to the end user, they are invisible at best and an inconvenience at worst.

There are millions of cleaners out there, many of whom feel underpaid, underappreciated and invisible. The Cleaning Taskforce, launched by the EHRC, aims to promote employers’ compliance with employment law and improve workers’ understanding of employment rights; improve the impact of public and private sector procurement of cleaning services on employment conditions in the sector and encourage the respectful treatment of cleaning operatives.

Facilities management provider Servest is part of the Cleaning Taskforce, FM director Pam Coulson’s involvement stems from a willingness to transform the industry – to help cleaners receive support and development throughout their careers.

The taskforce’s fresh focus on industry best practice will help to ensure that cleaners are seen and heard, thinks Coulson. “It’s about time cleaners are respected and represented,” she said. “It’s music to my ears that steps are being taken to help people to carve a career out of cleaning.”

The taskforce was convened by the EHRC, following publication of its “Invisible Workforce” report, which set out to discover the ins and outs of employment in the commercial cleaning sector in England, Scotland and Wales.

The report found that some employers did not provide contracts to staff and failed to pay their employees in full, or to pay sickness or holiday leave entitlements. It also found that many cleaning operatives are female migrants, who spoke of being invisible, of being treated badly compared to other employees, and not understanding their rights.

With the dawn of a new year, many are hopeful that the Cleaning Taskforce will trigger a dramatic reform within the industry, both in terms of how employees are treated, and how they view and value themselves.

Coulson’s colleagues at Servest view the taskforce as a move in the right direction – but more work needs to be done and the onus is on the employers to embrace best practice moving forward.

“There has been a lot of talk about the Taskforce, and about employee engagement, at board level within the cleaning industry,” says Servest’s managing director facilities management, Vince Treadgold.

“We’ve captured the attention of an influential population and, for the first time ever, it’s a hot topic – as it rightly should be,” commented Treadgold. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to promote the campaign, and reach out, especially to the teams working on the ground and to the wider circles of the industry.

shutterstock_317342375Servest’s philosophy puts people at the heart of its business – and so employee engagement and the associated initiatives have always been at the forefront of its business model.

Many other businesses in the industry are engaging well with employees. For those that aren’t, there seems to be a willingness to improve. However, not all employers and clients are on the same page, and Servest believe the taskforce is a wakeup call to these other organisations.

“Clients really have to be on board with these initiatives and have to buy into them for there to be real improvements at a site level, and some just aren’t,” said Treadgold. “This campaign will help to expose those who aren’t.”

So how are clients to be educated and brought on board? And what can service providers do to help clients care more about the future of the cleaner? How can businesses ensure cleaners are treated as integral members of the team? What are the steps towards best practice?

Support from the industry is key, which is being drummed up in various ways. The taskforce is working on a poster campaign to ensure that the EHRC’s messages and objectives are communicated to both employers and employees; both need to be educated about best practice. There has also been considerable talk about the taskforce on social media, at industry networking events and in the national and trade press.

It’s also about working hard to develop positive relationships with suppliers, thinks Treadgold. It’s about getting them involved in meetings, working with them on training plans, emphasising values, reiterating best practice, establishing a diversity policy, adhering to strict supplier setup processes, and agreeing on an ethical code of conduct. Ultimately, it’s about working together as one team. If this level of communication is achieved, a company’s ethical standpoint and philosophy diffuses down to the client.

Treadgold also believes that more discussions should definitely be taking place at a grassroots level. OK, so many people don’t grow up wanting to be a cleaner. But, on the other hand, there are many cleaners who enjoy their job, and take pride in their work. They need to be involved with the decisions that affect their career development.

The senior members of the FM community acknowledge that more needs to be done to ensure cleaners are respected and treated well at work – but do the cleaners themselves realise this dialogue is even happening? Does it impact their everyday lives? The EHRC thinks not.

Of course the report does find many examples of good practice. There are cleaning firms with policies in place to promote equality. Such policies help firms to develop positive relationships with suppliers and also encourage investment in workforce development, leading to greater job stability. But, the report indicates, the industry could do better.

Servest’s Group HR director, C-J Green, commented: “For the industry to truly become an industry of choice, we need to look at employee engagement at a grassroots level and at developing people to give them a career path,” she said, emphasising that it is the responsibility of the employer to establish such dialogues.

Servest’s cleaners know about the taskforce, but in reality they see their opportunities as coming from Servest. For its cleaners, Servest provides numerous training and development opportunities, forums where employees can be heard, team meetings, team engagement events and biannual employee engagement surveys. In addition, the Group elects employee representatives who act as a voice for the people and communicate how those who are on the ground are feeling about various issues.

A supervisor academy also runs across the entire cleaning business, providing training to supervisors. These individuals who represent the Servest business every day are taught how to deal with employee grievances, employee engagement, team development, client engagement, and more.

Ultimately, employees feel engaged because Servest works hard on making them feel like important and valued members of the team and of the client’s team.

“For there to be real change in the industry, employers have to embrace best practice and give their teams the support and development they deserve,” said Green. “This campaign offers the opportunity to share best practice around employee engagement which will empower individuals and communicate that people can make a good career out of cleaning.”

About Sarah OBeirne

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